Saving college gymnastics a passion for Glen Ellyn boy
For an 11-year-old, Louie Diab has a pretty clear vision of his future. And with a big part of that future in doubt, he is doing something about it.
Louie, a sixth-grader at Hadley Junior High in Glen Ellyn, comes from a family of gymnasts. His father Mark was a Division I gymnast at Iowa State, his mother Jennifer at Wisconsin. He also has older siblings who competed or are still competing in college gymnastics.
So it's no surprise that Louie, who trains at Premier Gymnastics Academy in Downers Grove (which his parents own), wants to become a college athlete.
But with men's gymnastics teams disappearing around the country, Louie is worried there won't be any colleges left to compete at when he gets there.
"I am in there training a little over 15 hours a week and working my butt off to try to get better and be able to get to that point one day," Louie said. "It's hard to see that could never happen."
Louie doesn't have to look further than his own parents to see the affects of gymnastics programs being cut. Wisconsin dropped men's and women's gymnastics in the 1990s; Iowa State cut its men's team in the 90s.
"It's terrible," Jennifer Diab said. "It leaves a sore spot."
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on college athletic departments has caused men's gymnastics programs to take an even bigger hit. In the last month, the University of Iowa, William and Mary and the University of Minnesota all dropped their programs.
That leaves only 12 schools in the country that have a men's program.
On Saturday, Louie will be at Village Links of Glen Ellyn, cleaning clubs and selling refurbished golf balls. The money he raises will be donated to the College Gymnastics Association.
"I think it's a great thing he's doing," Jennifer Diab said. "It's a cause worth fighting for. He knows that."
Louie's dream is to be on the University of Illinois men's team like his older brothers. Alex Diab, who graduated from Illinois in May, was a two-time NCAA rings champion and a four-time Big Ten rings champion.
Max Diab is currently a senior on the Illini team.
As for Louie's older sisters, Maddie Diab is a sophomore on Iowa State's gymnastics team, and Anna Diab finished second in the all-around at state last year for Glenbard West.
Louie said he got the idea for Saturday's fundraiser when his dad brought home extra golf balls his playing partner found during their rounds. Louie cleaned the golf balls and sold them to his dad's friends.
"I'm thinking I could probably go to the links and sell these and make some good money," Louie said.
The CGA is raising money to save the three recently cut teams. It also wants to help the remaining gymnastics programs so they fund themselves instead of relying on their universities to support them.
Louie can quickly cite statistics on this topic, like the raises Iowa gave its football coaches after cutting the gymnastics program or the 90 percent of U.S. Olympic men's gymnasts who came through a collegiate program.
He's trying to do his part so those programs will be there when he gets to college.
"There is hope (with the CGA) and one of the initiatives they are doing is making the gymnastics teams make their footprints smaller," Jennifer Diab said. "Smaller teams, less coaches, less scholarships so they can raise money and fund themselves. It's not just gymnastics, this is happening to other Olympic sports. They are doing a disservice to the students."